Welsh Tenants were pleased to support the Housing Camp Cymru ‘un-conference’ event this year. The event held in Chapter Arts in Cardiff was an interesting event. Here Jonathan Howells provides an outline of the day and some of the sessions he attended.
Housing Camp Cymru by Jonathan Howells
The concept of an unconference to newcomers was daunting, as we’re so use to everything being planned with precision and it was difficult to know whether the day would run smoothly, reminding me of Nietzche’s reference “out of chaos comes order,” although it’s argued by some that this refers to his passion towards his nihilistic belief. Thankfully only our passion was evident to the event’s success in bringing structure to the day.
The event was held at Chapter Arts in Cardiff a “dynamic social space” reflecting our group of nearly fifty people’s attitude who represented not only housing but finance, technology and the 3rd sector.
A friendly atmosphere from the start with brief intros from each individual and adding a choice of three words, in regards to his or her expectations from the event, or what matters to them, or even how they feel about the event – I heard “free Jaffa cakes”, which I must admit makes more sense than current political agendas.
As a private tenant I wanted to illustrate the lack of representation of my tenure in a sector that’s primarily dominated by its big brother, Social Housing.
Appreciation was highlighted for the event’s sponsors, without whom the event wouldn’t have been successful and in this instance most would say are they’re more deserving than others, as they took a leap of faith in committing to the event’s concept.
Equally our appreciation went to the organisers of Housing Camp Cymru, all of who worked hard to promote and plan the day (as best as they could since the event’s concept meant it was supposed to be unplanned…)
Hearing the pitches made by many of those attending gave me further confidence that today was going to be full of interest with diverse topics that matter and lead by innovative thinkers.
Delivering Supported Housing
My first choice of the day’s session was Delivering Supported Housing Services lead by Alice Jane Smith, the recent winner of CIH’s Rising Stars Award and who currently works for Spectrum Housing Group. She shared with us information on the Housing First project in England and coming from a viewpoint of a housing provider in England she wanted to take our devolved wisdom back with her to Dorset. Only joking.
The whole event was a mutual exchange of ideas from people who care about the sector. More importantly its service users -the most inspiring thing about the event.
We discussed the social responsibilities and values of service providers, the need to improve policies that safeguard vulnerable people in housing who haven’t the training or ability to sustain their tenancies in non-supported tenures, the demand for housing providers to get more involved with local resources that could assist them, the importance of independent living and many more items were underlined.
I managed to outline that prevention from eviction caused by underlying issues and indirect prejudice should be better regulated, as misunderstood and stigmatised conditions including mental health illnesses and Autism/ ADHD can lead to homelessness because of unnecessary ASBOs and complaints from neighbours that are negligent of the person’s condition.
Supported housing is not just bricks and mortar – it’s a lifeline to the most vulnerable and misunderstood in our society that should be praised for safeguarding its service users and being able to adapt to the current economic climate that tries to cut this fragile support (although in Wales efforts are being made to protect it).
Time and hunger was our enemy – unlike our hunger for knowledge. The food (provided by kind the sponsors) was ready and our stomachs ached for our bodies’ regeneration, which also prepared those who’d be drinking later on.
Co-production – is it a con?
A productive session lead by Gwenda Owen, who’d spent most of her working life in the 3rd Sector and is currently the Director for Active Travel Innovations. Honest hesitation by most was shown at the beginning of the subject but as we got the ball rolling the group managed to make progress in sharing their ideas on co-production. We touched on topics including; the legacy of Communities First, proper representation in partnerships and projects, the dangers of an organisation pulling the weight of others involved in the agreement that has a negative effect on service users, but we undeniably believe strongly in the empowerment of people and communities.
During the session I used the phrase “spanner in the works,” which is fitting, since it refers to how we need to assess how co-production can work efficiently – like popping up the bonnet of a car and making sure all parts play their role in the running of the car.
I’d like to outline that the day itself is a result of co-production, as those who attended developed into a community assembled from various sectors but possessing like-mindedness and similar values – key to producing revolutionary thinking.
Julie Nicholas who had just joined Monmouthshire Housing from CIH Cymru lead the last session that I attended, which concerned how RSLs are able to improve their current model of how new tenancies are acquired by tenants, more precisely focusing on pre-tenancies. The group shared their experiences of RSLs processes, which gave us an opportunity to reflect on our current housing policies in place.
Conclusion – I hope not!
This “unconference” proved to be successful in bringing some new ideas from brilliant thinkers who helped to structure this day’s programme. This event is definitely a breath of fresh air blowing through the sector – but it’s important that the windows be kept wide open, so that even more fresh ideas can circulate.